Greenhouse OPEN Speaker Series: Sustaining Culture Through Collaboration, A Mile-High View w/Ginger Hardage, former SVP of Culture & Comms at Southwest Airlines

Building company culture from scratch - that’s hard. Creating a unique and inclusive culture that stands the test of time - sounds impossible, right? It doesn’t have to be. We caught up with OPEN 2018 speaker Ginger Hardage for our Q&A blog series, to learn from her over 25 years of experience in the profession of culture.

The former Senior Vice President of Culture and Communications is touted with creating the award-winning workplace culture of one of the most beloved and innovative airline brands, and knows what elements are needed to sustain a culture that lasts long-term.

How did Ginger help Southwest Airlines become a best place to work darling? We caught up with her to find out, and to learn about her passion project, Unstoppable Cultures, a brand designed to enable companies to build and maintain enduring and inviting work cultures.

Greenhouse: Creating a culture from scratch is a daunting thought. What’s your advice to businesses or entrepreneurs/startups that want to get it right, but just don’t know where to start?

Ginger Hardage: Yes, creating a culture from scratch can feel overwhelming, but it’s much easier than turning around a toxic culture!  For a startup, the leadership team must be on the same page. Just like a family, the kids can tell when mom and dad are sending mixed signals.  The same applies to leadership teams sharing the same values. Once those uniting values are established, unwavering adherence should be applied throughout the organization.  The next step is hiring employees who demonstrate those values and reinforcing that culture throughout onboarding, training, customer delivery, and performance management.

  1. Demonstrate a united leadership team.
  2. Establish systems to continually reinforce the values.
  3. Hold all leadership accountable for living and supporting the culture.

GH: Your work on “Southwest’s Best Place to Work” initiative is renowned in the world of communications and culture. How did you create the framework for this project and maintain the ranking on such a consistent basis?

GH: Southwest Airlines was established upon a people-first culture by Founder Herb Kelleher and President Emeritus Colleen Barrett.  CEO Gary Kelly was cut from the same cloth, so continuing our “Best Place to Work” philosophies never faltered. Once a month, I led a collaborative session of leaders from multiple departments (people, diversity & inclusion, culture, communications, employee engagement) to assure we were operating off of the same page.  As a group, we monitored the same performance factors to assure that we were supporting increased employee engagement, lower employee turnover, and continued pride in working for the company. Culture is every leader’s job. We assured that more than 50 initiatives were creating a web of culture reinforcement.

GH: Last year you launched Unstoppable Cultures, a brand designed to help organizations create and sustain cultures of enduring greatness. I’d love for you to share in your own words a more detailed description of your mission and vision for Unstoppable Cultures, specifically the Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship.

GH: Southwest Airlines provided a PhD in culture management and the mission of my Unstoppable Cultures brand is to share those lessons with as many organizations as possible.  Our goal is to help organizations create and sustain cultures of enduring greatness. The Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship will be a four-day culture immersion this November limited to 56 participants who can select a coach from organizational architects of Disney, Chick-Fil-A, Navy SEALS, or Southwest Airlines. The retreat even includes food and accommodations at the renowned Four Seasons Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe (there might even be tequila tastings and salsa-making!). But the learning won’t stop there as participation includes a 3-month follow-up team coaching process and membership in the alumni network.

I would love to extend 10% off the registration fee to Greenhouse subscribers, simply enter the promo code GREENHOUSE when you apply.

Ginger will join culture leaders from Warby Parker and Zenefits during OPEN 2018 next week, in a riveting conversation on the Role of the New Chief People Officer, moderated by Lars Schmidt, co-founder of HR Open Source.

With less than 20 tickets left, you’ve still got a chance to catch Ginger and 1,000 innovative talent professionals at the OPEN 2018 conference in New York City. Head on over to our registration site to lock in your spot: http://greenhouseopen.com/conference/2018.

Can’t make it in-person to OPEN? We’ll miss you, but you can still catch some of the action by tuning into our keynote livestreams April 3 and April 4. Sign up here, and join the conversation on Twitter using #ghOPEN.

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Dinah Alobeid is Director of Communications at Greenhouse. She helps shape and share the Greenhouse brand story and keeps its audiences informed on company news and industry knowledge. Dinah has 10 years of communications experience in the technology field and prior to Greenhouse, she built and ran the communications team at Brandwatch. She's an avid writer, dancer, foodie and book nerd. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn

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